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Looking Back at 2020 and Forward to 2021

I'm one of those people who loves reflection. It helps me appreciate growth, identify areas of my life that need improvement, and clarify goals moving forward. And yes... I'm one of those people who loves to focus on this at the new year (I thrive when I have goals to work towards). Like most of you, 2020 was colored by grief and challenges for me. I think we've all been in the same boat this year sharing many of the same struggles -- some struggling much more than others. That's why I think it's important to recognize the silver linings that came out of this year, the growth, and the many things to be thankful for. I thought it would be good to record them and share with you my tentative plans and goals for the coming year. 

2020 - The Highlights

Earthwatch Commission

2020 started off with an amazingly fun commission for an environmental nonprofit called Earthwatch. In their own words: "Since its founding in 1971, Earthwatch has been taking action to address global change through a time-tested model of citizen science and community engagement. By pairing citizen science volunteers from all sectors of society with researchers around the world, Earthwatch teams have helped to safeguard critical habitats, conserve biodiversity, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources."

As many of you will know, nature fuels everything that I create. Environmental preservation is something I care deeply about so it felt "meant to be" when I was contacted to create 3 watercolor illustrations for them to use in their website redesign. The goal was to illustrate the conservation missions in a whimsical way to encourage and inspire the viewer to volunteer. The 3 main environments represented were coral reefs, African Savannah, and northeastern forests. Each illustration needed to accurately represent the flora and fauna that the missions address. Here is my favorite one from the bunch:

Courtney Hopkins African Savannah Illustration

Garden Season & My First Art Collection

A HUGE part of my year consisted of gardening. Given that I was now working from home due to the pandemic, I had more time than ever to tend to it. Working the soil with my hands became a balm when things got tough and brought me back down to earth, quite literally. While I had planned to paint my Ireland series over the summer, it became clear that I wouldn't have the proper energy and devotion to dedicate towards it because the garden took over my inspiration and immediate attention. I decided to pivot directions and give in to it. It's usually best to do this because you will end up creating something that you're passionate about and you'll give it your all. The result of this was my first art collection, "Homegrown 2020", which I am very proud of. It was a true labor of love from the growing of the garden to the final paintings and prints. If you happened to miss it, you can check it out here.

Homegrown 2020 Art Collection

Exploring Plein Air

While researching painting techniques, I came across the practice of plein air painting. Even if you've never heard that terminology, you probably know exactly what it is. Simply put, it's french for "painting outdoors" or "out in the open". The more I learned about the benefits it can add to your painting practice, the more I was hooked on the idea. Because you're dealing with the natural elements (like sudden weather changes and changing light), there is a need to paint much faster than you normally might. This changes the way that you observe and capture the landscape. Not to mention that the human eye perceives color more accurately than a camera can record it.

I decided to try my hand at it so I got a travel sketchbook and started doing timed plein air paintings on the porch and in the countryside. These were really fun experiences! Kevin and I even put the dog in the truck, packed some coffee and camp chairs and went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (my favorite) so I could paint some mountain landscapes. Here is one example of my (not very good) result. Even though they're not my best works, I love them because each one taught me new skills and was a handmade record of a great memory.

Courtney Hopkins Plein Air Painting

Capturing Fall Leaves

When the leaves started to change, I became completely obsessed with capturing them before they faded away forever. Soon, every lunch break became a leaf collecting walk and every flat surface in our house had little piles of leaves waiting to be painted, much to Kevin's bemusement.

Autumn Leaves by Courtney Hopkins

Courtney Hopkins with her Fall Leaves Painting

Deep Dive Into Oil Painting

I've been increasingly feeling the limitations of using watercolor as my sole painting medium. Don't get me wrong, I love it and will continue to use it but I've been inspired to try to capture images of the wild with a little more drama, color intensity, and contrast to more accurately replicate the feeling I have when I'm physically experiencing a location. I'm not saying it can't be done in watercolor, but I can't shake the need to explore oil paints to try to achieve this effect in a different way. Well, it's been about 3 months of quietly digging into it behind the scenes and I can confidently say that I'm hooked! I'm looking forward to seeing how my work will evolve and improve as I continue to explore the medium. Here's a little peek of all the oil paintings I've done this fall:

Courtney Hopkins Oil Paintings

Turning 30

After Christmas, I turned 30! I'm extremely optimistic and excited to move into this new decade. There are so many things I want to learn, experience, and improve upon and the last decade of growth has given me the confidence, perseverance, and perspective needed to move forward without letting perfectionism and fear hold me back.

Courtney Hopkins


2021 - Moving Forward

The Much Talked About, Long Awaited Ireland Series...

I know, I know.. I've teased this for so long. As I partially explained earlier, the pandemic threw a wrench into the plan. Additionally, I decided I wanted to solidify my ideas and improve my painting skills and approach so that I could do the series justice. I'm really glad that I waited because, as I mentioned, I've now added oil painting to my skillset and given that the holidays are now over, I have the winter to hunker down and really dig into it without distraction. I cannot wait!! I'll share updates as they come. 

I've got some other hopes for the coming year, but I will refrain from calling them "plans" because there's no telling what the year will bring. I've already bought seeds for the garden and have plotted it all out!! That was literally the first thing I did on January 1st. Hopefully, there will be a "Homegrown 2021" art collection at the end of next summer! 

I'd also really love to dig into plein air painting more. When the weather gets nice again here in Virginia, I want to take advantage of my beautiful surroundings and paint on location at the dozens of sprawling vineyards right around my house. That would make some interesting video footage for you as well so I'm hoping to be able to share my experiences with you in that way even more this year.

I hope all the best things for you in this new year and that you can enjoy what you're passionate about as well. I so appreciate all of the support you all have given me this year. Whether you bought art from me or you enjoy following along, it all means a lot to me and I'm so glad you're here! 

Take care and cheers to a new year!


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  • Lovely work by a lovely, sensitive young woman.

    Sherry Ward
  • Thanks for adding me to your beautiful site. I’m very familiar with your location as my father owned a farm in Palmyra VA for over 60 years. My sisters and I inherited the farm. We fondly remember our visits to the farm. Your art reminds me so much of the serenity we enjoyed on the farm.
    Best wishes,

  • There are no words for your personal insight in the outpouring of your talent. Your work is amazing and I’m in awe of the beauty you conjure. It’s so refreshing and uplifting to participate in your journey as you tell your visual stories! Thank you for sharing your beauty ❤️❤️❤️


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